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Observations from Asuncion

Life along the river is slow. There is no need for hustle and bustle; all corners of the community can be reached in minutes on foot. There is no excessive activity; the heat of the day–which often reaches 110 degrees Fahrenheit–necessitates restful afternoons.
Life along the river is never rushed, but life along the river is highly efficient. In this community of 38 families, everybody knows his or her role. Food is harvested and hunted bountifully, then cooked to perfection. At mealtimes, tables are filled with pasteles, cuñape, fresh fruits and vegetables, lentils, rice, and chicken. Children study daily at the school their parents and siblings have constructed, and work themselves to make improvements to the building. When it rains, community members build ditches around houses so that the rain water will not seep into the floors. When someone is sick, another community member will go into the jungle and prepare a natural remedy. When a meeting is set for a certain time, all community members are highly punctual, despite the fact that most do not own watches. When the community gets its yearly donation from Dragons, they collectively decide how to spend that money–last year´s purchase was a machine to facilitate the grinding of rice.

Earlier this semester, Veronica asked us why we travel to these communities. Why do we elect to spend time in conditions we might find uncomfortable? What do we gain from meeting people who are accustomed to living with less capital than we are? I struggled to find an answer. I still struggle. To say that we merely want to “observe” a different way of life is dehumanizing at best, and voyeuristic at worst. To say that living in these conditions forces us to be thankful for what we have back at home is as degrading as it is cliche.

Asuncion gave me some answers. I realized that this small, incredibly rural community had a lot to teach our group.

Most of us live in or near a city. We are used to having our needs easily met, and having to focus on our wants. We lead hectic lives; for me, this year of travel was a mental health break between an anxiety-provoking year of high school and an undoubtedly stressful year of college. We are so used to making ourselves busy, with fulfilling our wants which far outweigh our needs. And–warning: cliche statement ahead–with all of our technology to keep us connected, we are terrible at communication. Observing the people of Asuncion and how seamlessly they came together to make decisions, I felt mildly embarrassed at how long it has taken our group to decide where to go for lunch some days. Experiencing a few days of a simple, need-based life reminded me that ninety-nine percent of what stresses me out on a daily basis is in no way essential to my survival.

I´d like to believe that during my time in Asuncion I was observing this unfamiliar life not to observe people who were lacking things that I am used to, but to understand the qualities that I am lacking, both as an individual and as a part of my society, and to learn from people who have so much figured out.